Six approaches for social media adoption – 4. converse
I’m back from holiday, relatively refreshed, and feeling bad with the realisation of how long I have been stringing this series out. This wasn’t deliberate on my part and I will try and bang the last three out in quick order (not easy for a blogger as lazy as I).
So, to ‘converse’, the fourth approach.
When I was pulling the approaches to social media paper together over eighteen months ago, I imagined this to be the real meaty opportunity – devolving discretion to policy owners (thought leaders) and press officers to join existing conversations. To give them the opportunity to offer their thoughts or advice and correct any misconceptions or factual errors.
I say ‘devolving discretion’ (or should I say, said) rather than ’empower’ because then, as now, there was considerable nervousness higher up in the towers of Whitehall about completely letting go and signalling a free for all for civil servants to dive into participating. Devolving discretion in this context means a more measured approach – providing guidelines, setting operating parameters etc.
The strength in allowing civil servants to take part in conversations is obvious. Intervention to correct factual errors could prevent stories unreasonably gaining a life of their own. Its also a great opportunity to build relationships and trust with stakeholders by demonstrating transparency and honesty through conversations.
On the flip-side its important that this is not seen as an outlet for formal rebuttal. Attempts to use the tools for this purpose could seriously impact an organisation’s credibility. From a corporate perspective, its also important to recognise that many staff will need some kind of training or help to give them the skills for the job.
So, some great opportunities to ‘humanise ‘government, increase engagement, to crowdsource and develop early stage policy ideas – garnering opinions from activists and communities before narrowing down to formal policy options.
But there are dangers. Adopting an informal approach could backfire if the correct conversational and personal tone is not adopted and/or perceived to be insincere – especially around emotive and high profile issues. Identification of individuals or groups of civil servants online could also make them open to personal attack and flaming from those with malicious intent.
In terms of cost and resource, I think by this point some dedicated specialist resource is essential to support, guide and mentor officials engaging in debate. Certainly people will probably require some support at set up and need to know someone is available to help them if they have concerns or problems.
So, that’s four down. Two to go.